A US envoy on Friday called on the Security Council to provide an “honest and transparent” accounting of the destabilising role that private security forces such as Russia's Wagner Group play in fragile countries like Mali.
The comments by Richard Mills, the US deputy ambassador to the UN, come a day after Washingtonformally designated the Wagner Group as a transnational, “significant” criminal organisation and imposed sanctions on several entities associated with it.
“Wagner is a criminal organisation that is committing widespread atrocities and human rights abuses in Mali and elsewhere,” Mr Mills told the Security Council.
Organisations such as the Wagner Group play a destabilising role in places where UN field missions operate, he added.
The Wagner Group — a network providing fighters for hire that was founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin — has been operating in Mali despite evidence gathered by the UN pointing to its involvement in widespread human rights abuses.
Since 2012, Mali has been plagued by insurgent groups linked to ISIS and Al Qaeda. Vast parts of the West African nation are controlled by myriad rebel groups, militias and criminal gangs.
Minusma — the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali — was deployed in 2013 to shore up the turbulent Sahel state, where fighting has claimed thousands of lives and uprooted hundreds of thousands.
France, UK and Germany ended their three-year Minusma deployments in Mali because of tension with transitional authorities and the country's decision to partner with Wagner.
France's deputy ambassador to the UN, Nathalie Broadhurst, told Security Council members that the Wagner Group's presence in Mali is “known to all and even recognised by the Russian authorities”.
“Their presence has equated to regular acts of violence being perpetrated against Malian civilians, and it's also equated to growing obstacles being placed on Minusma's work. That's not acceptable,” she said.
Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzia, accused the Security Council of leaving a vacuum created by the “hasty withdrawal” of French and European troops from Mali.